April 20, 2006

Solomons PM sworn in, troops patrol streets

By Michelle Nichols

HONIARA (Reuters) - The Solomon Islands secretly swore in
new Prime Minister Snyder Rini on Thursday as Australian troops
patrolled burnt-out buildings after two days of rioting sparked
by his election.

Australia said it was committed to restoring law and order
in the troubled South Pacific island chain to prevent it
becoming a failed state and possible haven for terrorism.

After an overnight curfew forced rioters off the streets of
the capital Honiara, those who ventured out wandered along
dusty streets strewn with broken glass and debris.

Smoke still rose from dozens of blackened buildings, their
roofs now collapsed. Damaged shops were derelict, doors and
windows missing, littered with refuse left by looters.

Burnt-out cars dotted dirt roads through the town of 50,000
as heavily armed troops stopped and checked other vehicles.

"The mob rule, the feeding shark, however you like to
describe it, have totally just trashed the place," a Honiara
resident named Paul told Australian television.

Violence erupted on Tuesday after Rini was named as the new
leader. Rioters claimed Rini's new government would be heavily
influenced by local Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan
government, which the Solomons recognizes diplomatically.

Rioters and looters targeted Honiara's Chinese population
of a couple of thousand, destroying most of the Chinatown
district. Dozens of Chinese families abandoned their homes and
are being cared for by the local Red Cross.

"The Chinese are innocent," said taxi driver Kingsley Sam,
driving through tight security at Honiara's airport. "The
Chinese serve us food and clothes. The Chinese are citizens
here, too."

Rini was sworn in as prime minister at a secret ceremony at
Government House and will announce his cabinet on Friday, a
government spokesman said.

The Solomons, a chain of 992 islands covering 1.35 million
sq km (520,000 sq miles) of ocean, teetered on the brink of
collapse in 2003 when armed gangs fought over Honiara.

Australia then led a South Pacific force to restore order,
warning that failed states could become terrorist havens.

Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have committed an extra 250
troops to that peacekeeping force to back Canberra's
interventionist policy.

"Failed states become the breeding grounds for all sorts of
ideologies and attitudes and developments which can pose a
threat to the stability of the whole region," Howard said in a
speech late on Wednesday.


Honiara's normally thriving open-air marketplace, where
hundreds gather each morning to buy food grown in villages
outside the capital, was empty, closed for a second day.

Johnson Honimae, a government communications officer, said
people were scavenging through the rubble in Honiara.

"People are still going to the burned out shops and trying
to pick up what they can, but there are more police out on the
streets now," Honimae told Reuters.

"Some services, including public transport, petrol
stations, health clinics have reopened. Schools and banks are
yet to open their doors," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will visit the
Solomons on Saturday and will hold talks with Rini.

"We have more troops ready ... if we need to send them in,"
Downer told Australian Sky Television. "It doesn't look as
though we will need to do that but if things suddenly take a
turn for the worse ... we can certainly send more troops in

The Solomons is an impoverished country where the majority
of the population of half a million lead subsistence lives.
Ethnic fighting between rival islanders and lawlessness have
claimed hundreds of lives over the past decade.